A grim debut from writer-director Kai S. Pieck tells the story of real-life teenage serial killer Jurgen Bartsch, who murdered four boys between 1962 and 1966, and after his capture, made statements and wrote letters about his background and his crimes. It will be extremely difficult to find an audience for this well-made but repellant subject-matter.

This article was corrected on April 28, 2003.

A grim, small-scale debut from writer-director Kai S. Pieck tells the story of real-life teenage serial killer Jurgen Bartsch, who murdered four small boys between 1962 and 1966, and after his capture, made statements and wrote letters about his background and his crimes. It will be extremely difficult to find an audience for this well-made but repellant subject-matter.

A butcher’s assistant who lived in Germany’s Ruhr district, Bartsch was 15 when he kidnapped and strangled his first victim. Pieck’s film consists of black-and-white scenes in which the killer (Tobias Schenke), after his capture, talks to the camera about his crimes; and also color flashbacks in which a younger Bartsch (Sebastian Urzendowsky) is seen at home with his parents and, later, tracking down and dispatching his victims. With a disinterested father (Walter Gontermann) and a too-affectionate mother (Ulrike Bliefert), who bathes her adopted son long past puberty, Bartsch’s confused sexuality turns to a bitter hatred of all things sexual, resulting in his crimes. Though Pieck is to be admired for the rigorousness in telling this chilling story (on what looks like a near zero budget), the film itself remains resolutely unlikable.

The Child I Never Was

Germany

Production

An MTM West Film and TV production, in association with WDR. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Bettina Scheuren, Andrea Hanke. Directed, Written by Kai S. Pieck, based on original letters and statements by Jurgen Bartsch and a book by Paul Moor.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DV to 35mm), Egon Werdin; editor, Ingo Ehrlich; music, Christina Paul, Heike Ersfeld; production designer, Bertram Strauss; costume designer, Anne Jendritzko. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (New German Cinema), Feb. 9, 2003. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Tobias Schenke, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Ulrike Bliefert, Walter Gontermann.
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